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20 Teves 5760 - December 29, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Government Crisis Ends as Shas Gets Money for Chinuch

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

By Wednesday morning, the crisis caused by Shas' threat to withdraw from the government had seemingly passed. Tuesday night, Shas already voted with the government to approve the budget. The following was written on Tuesday morning, as the crisis was at its height.

Early Monday morning, Shas leader Eli Yishai announced his party is quitting the coalition. This, he said, was requested by the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah after it became apparent its budget demands were not being met. Yishai immediately informed Prime Minister Ehud Barak of the decision, with the premier requesting a 24-hour delay before he accepts the resignation letter, to allow for further negotiations. The political system seemed to presume that the crisis would be resolved by Tuesday night, when the voting over the Law of Arrangements began, and at the latest on Thursday night, in time for the final vote on the budget in the Knesset.

If there is to be a financial compromise in Shas's battle with the Education Ministry over the debts of its semi- independent school system, it will require the Treasury to pay off most of the NIS 100 million sum, Shas sources said on Monday night. Other coalition partners won concessions of comparable amounts, and it is not considered a large figure in the NIS 400 billion budget.

The 17 seats of Shas provide the comfortable majority that Barak's government enjoys. With Shas, the government has 68 votes in the 120-seat Knesset. Without them it has a minority of 51, though it can count on the support of Shinui and at least some of the Arabs. Such a coalition, however, is very weak, and it would be difficult for Barak to advance his diplomatic initiatives with Syria and the Palestinian Authority if his government is so shaky.

Finance Minister Avraham Shohat said all sides are "really on the verge of sorting this out." However, the threats from Shas continued.

An early Monday evening attempt to end the crisis with a meeting between Education Minister Sarid and Shas Leader Eli Yishai failed to bring matters to a close, but Yishai said the session cleared the air. Barak and Shohat have been behind Sarid every step of the way, added Agriculture Minister Haim Oron (Meretz).

The battle with Meretz has presented Shas with an opportunity for some soul-searching. The idea of remaining in the coalition is unacceptable to most of its MKs, but they will always accept the word of the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah, party politicians said.

"In opposition I can work in accordance with my conscience," said David Tal, summing up the views of many of his colleagues. Deputy Finance Minister Nissim Dahan said opposition to remaining in the coalition is wall-to-wall. This was confirmed by David Azoulai.

In entering the government, HaRav Ovadia Yosef and his newly appointed party chairman, Eli Yishai, had just one key goal: ensuring the financial future of Shas's schools. After nine months in the government, the second largest party has so far been unable to even secure their financial present by paying off their loans.

The Knesset plenum, meanwhile, continued to discuss the budget bill, with voting on the second reading expected to begin Tuesday night. Voting on the third and final reading of the budget was scheduled for late Thursday night.

Rabbi Ravitz said that it will be hard for UTJ to support the budget if Shas does not, and it will not join with Shinui to ensure passage.

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